The Garifuna Village – Hopkins, Belize
The drive is long, longer than I expected. The Maya Mountains flank the west side of the drive, so the drive is scenic but the road is filled with potholes. On the way, we pass a bridge that has collapsed a year ago.
Don’t they fix that shit, man, Rick asks.
No money, the cabbie explains. Corrupt government keeps it all.
We eventually turn off the main highway onto a dirt road that’s even more filled with potholes and jutting rocks.
This is much better than when we saw it last, Phil says. It was filled with water then.
The cabbie swerves left and right to avoid obstacles in the hazardous terrain. His poor Nissan Sentra that he purchased for $6000, he says, is weighted down significantly by five extra bodies and many extra bags. And we are stuffed inside, with Sarah sitting on Phillip’s lap in front, and Rick, Cynthia and I stuffed in back with Cynthia’s suitcase.
They say in Hopkins, you can’t tell the drunk drivers from the sober ones because everyone swerves, Phillip says.
Yea, give me some of that stuff, the cabbie says.
I hand Phillip my smiley face cup and he fills it with One Barrel and some of the cabbie’s water.
Ahhh, that’s the stuff, the cabbie says, as he continues to weave hitting the occasional speed bump and pothole. Everyone now and when, Sarah and Phillip get out of the car so the car can make it over a speed bump with scraping out the bottom.
You know you’re drinking your tip, right? Rick says devilishly.
Oh come on, man, the cabbie says.
It’s 4:30 when we finally reach Jungle Jeanie’s and we are thankful that we’ve managed to make it without breaking the cab. Our smart mouth cabbie, who turns out to be East Indian, gives everyone hugs and high fives and is on his way, 240 Belize richer.
Jeanie, a slight but fierce woman who looks in her 70s, comes out to greet us, giving Phillip and Sarah huge hugs. They had stayed here for a week before they went to Hamanasi resort next door to hold their wedding ceremonies.
I can’t believe you guys are back, she says.
She shows us the two cabanas… treehouses really that sit on tall stilts.. that sit about 20 meters from the beach that are still available. They are $50 US a piece, one with 3 beds, one with 2, so Rick, Cyn and I take the larger of the two. This is the largest and cheapest kind of accommodations that we’ve had so far, competing with only our Roatan cabanas for maximum comfort and space.
It’s a good thing you guys called today, Jeanie says. I’m completely full tomorrow.
The five of us head to the beach with bottles of One Barrel for..at last..some time to rest. Cyn, Rick and I go splash in the waves. It is, at least for Cyn and I, our last opportunity to swim in the sea.
The water is bright, almost green, lapping against a tropical shore. Maybe miles off shore, there are tropical reefs that break the waves coming in from the sea. On this particular night, the wind is strong and it keeps the sand flies and mosquitoes at bay. I’m grateful.
Sarah and Phillip try to rent bikes for us from Jeanie’s but as luck would have it, the good bikes were rented out, and the shitty ones were inoperable, really.
Perhaps we can all rent ones from Hamanasi, Sarah suggests, so in the darkness, the five of us walk down the lonely stretch of beach until we see the glowing torches the sand that signal we have arrived at the resort. This is the first place we’ve been thus far that it’s actually safe to walk on the beach in the dark, I think.
When we enter the resort, it is cheery and clean. Many gringos sit at the bar, some completely drunk, and upon talking to them, it seems few have left the resort to venture into the surrounding garifuna villages.
They offer a bike tour to the garifuna village for $30 US, Sarah tells me. It’s quite rubbish, as if the village wasn’t safe or something. The people are really lovely.
They talk to the staff like old friends, and Sarah graciously orders us a round of Belikin stout, which tastes close to a Guinness.
Although we had planned to come here and rent bikes, the friendly garifuna staff instead offers to drive us to North Beach, where we plan to have dinner. When we’re done, they say, as long as it’s between 8:30 and 10:30, they’ll come give us a ride home. Unbelievable.
North Beach is just a 10-15 minute drive up the street, although in distance, it’s probably not far at all. The dirt pothole roads do a lot to slow progress.
On the way, we stop in a Chinese deli to get some Off! Knowing that I’ll want snacks after a few drinks, I pick up a packet of coconut crackers, gangster Cheetos puffs and a Diet Coke.
The restaurant is empty when we get there. In the corner there are two white girl hovering over a computer, and one garifuna standing behind the bar. Having the restaurant to ourselves, we find a table just off the beach, adjacent to the beach volleyball court.
It’s usually pretty busy here, Sarah and Phil tell us, but it’s a Monday night. Even the karaoke bar is closed. Since Guatemala, we’ve been dying to get Phil and Rick to join us in some karaoke action. They keep refusing, insisting that it would take more drinks than that.
We order a round of Belikins at the bar, and when I turn around, I see Cynthia sprawled out on the beach floor clutching her ankle. And the poor thing is wearing a short jean skirt.
What happened, I say. There was only one step.
But it seems somehow, stone cold sober, she’s managed to trip on the single staircase down and sprain her ankle. Phillip and Rick support her on either side and help her to the dinner table. We use one chair to elevate her bad leg.
We have amazing dinners of fresh fish, topped off with Belikins and One Barrel – libres. Somewhere in there, I buy everyone a round of shots for $12. I force Cynthia to take one, explaining that it will help numb the pain in her ankle that has now swelled to nearly twice its size.
We leave around 10:30 and head back to the resort, where I nearly instantly go to sleep.
I’ve never seen anyone pass out so quickly, Rick tells me the next day. You were literally mid-sentence.
Everyone else chills out on balcony until 12:45, when, as Phil says, he was completely fucked up. We all sleep through the cool darkness of the night.
Refreshed from a night of passed out sleep, I wake at 6 a.m. – more like pop – remembering that Phillip had mentioned sunrise is beautiful here and just due south of the beach.
Grabbing a camera, a diet coke and some crackers, I head downstairs barefoot to catch the morning sun. I am slightly disappointed by the heavily clouded sky that blocks the possibility of a truly brilliant sunrise, but in the pockets of blue amid the clouds, you can see the bright oranges and pinks that reflect off cloud outlines.
I get bored after a while decide to check out Hamanasi during the day. It was voted eco-lodge of the year, Sarah had said, so I figure that it must be quite charming, although decidedly less so in this weather.
The walk across the coarse sand is longer than the one I remembered taking last night. I can feel the rough grains underneath my toes and I wonder if it would be less painful with flip flops on.
In the stretch between Jungle Jeanie’s and Hamanasi, the beach gets thin, with sea grass covering half of the walkable area on the dry side. When torches begin to line the beach and hammocks begin to hang off the trees, I know I have arrived.
The place does look different during the day, although I’m not sure significantly. There are the hammocks that hang diagonally from palm trees, and the pool surrounded by chairs and ground torches. The bar/restaurant looks closed, but walking along the paths, I see the lush, tropical growths between the various treehouse accommodations that dot the property.
Standing in the wind, looking at nothing in particular, I feel the wind blowing forcefully through my hair, and all of a sudden, I want to cry. I feel the tightness in my throat and the water form behind my eyes. But nothing falls.
There is a long warehouse that houses SCUBA gear. I didn’t know you could dive here, I thought. I wonder what there is to see?
Making my way back, I grab my computer and head to the main room, which is still lock. When I sit down, I am instantly nuzzle-attacked by Jeanie’s large German Sheppard.
Hey girl, I say, and the massive dog repeatedly laps my face with drooly slobber. Ugh, I think.
Jeanie’s husband is inside and he lets me in.
There’s no food yet, he says, but you can sit.
The German Sheppard and I both go in and I sit until it’s time to have a hearty breakfast of coffee, eggs, a flour tortilla, bacon and fresh fruit.
Phil and Sarah appear around 8:30 with plans for the day. They had taken a picture of the bus schedule in Dangriga and there would be a bus leaving for Belize City at 10:30. They had arranged for a ride to the Dangriga bus station with Onica, one of the garifuna of the village, for 72 Belize Dollars.
The resort would charge you $60 US a person, Sarah adds. That’s the resort price. It’s always better to go with the locals.
I take breakfast up to Cynthia – some eggs, fried dough much more delicious than my tortilla, and chicken sausage – who is still recovering from her ankle sprain from last night. We need to go soon, I say, and we pack up our things wistfully, unwilling to acknowledge that we are really leaving paradise today.
We load into a minivan with Onica, a ride much more comfortable and accommodating than the taxi.
Noting the time, Phillip asks, Do you reckon we can get to Dangriga by 1030?
She taps the digital clock, which has somehow turned black. TAP, three fingers hit the screen and 9:53 suddenly lights up in LED green.
I think so, she says.
I like the confidence, Phillip says.
Well, if you don’t make the bus, I’ll drive you to the bus and wave it down. But tell me, if you don’t make the bus, who’s fault is it? I was there at 20 past 9.
Who was on the toilet? Sarah chimes in.
Now that we’ve established who’s fault it is…. That’s what I love about the country. The buses will stop anywhere.
The road out of Hopkins is just as bumpy as the road we took in. Onica swerves left and right to avoid the potholes, and I now see what Phil was talking about when he said you couldn’t tell the sober drivers from the drunk ones.